Alan Winchester is a spirited man. Let’s just say that is one of the many perks of being a master distiller. Especially, considering he has been in the whisky industry for 40 years, since he was a 16-year-old.
For the last 20 years, Winchester has been an integral part of the French alcohol giant Pernod Ricard. “It has been an honour to work with Pernod Ricard on Secret Speyside, a curated collection of 15 rare and remarkable whiskies from four of Speyside’s most elusive distilleries,” says Winchester.
For the uninitiated, Speyside, located in the picturesque Scottish Highlands, is Scotland’s biggest whisky-producing region. It is home to 50 distilleries, and represents almost half of all distilleries in Scotland, some of which date back to the early 1800s.
Explaining the geography, Winchester says that there are five undisputed regions in Scotland producing this drink: Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown, each offering its own distinctive flavour profile.
One of the reasons why Speyside stands out is due to its abundance and quality of water. It is believed that the region’s water has the lowest level of dissolved minerals in the country. And as a result, what you get are sophisticated, smooth whiskies “frugal with peat and full of fruit.” Apple, pear, honey, vanilla and spice all have a role in expressions from this region, which are commonly matured in sherry casks.
- The Highlands region has a huge diversity of flavours and characters, from lighter whiskies all the way through to salty coastal malts.
- Soft and smooth malts are characteristic of the Lowlands region, offering a gentle, elegant palate reminiscent of grass, honeysuckle, cream, ginger, toffee, toast and cinnamon.
- Islay is a unique island where the majority of its population are involved in whisky production, which is famous for fiery, heavily peated whiskies.
- Campbeltown whiskies have hints of salt, smoke, fruit, vanilla and toffee combine in whiskies of robust and rich character.
The region produces an overwhelming number of malts. Some of the better-known names include Glenfiddich, The Macallan, Glenlivet, Glen Moray and Aberlour, as well as Glen Keith, Caperdonich and Braes of Glenlivet that are part of the Secret Speyside collection. Winchester says the philosophy behind the creation of Secret Speyside is one of discovery, cultural enrichment and excellence.
The distilleries have intriguing stories. “Take Caperdonich, for example — the distillery was taken down brick by brick in 2011, so, there is only a finite supply of the whisky featured in the collection. Once gone, they will be gone forever,” he says.
And do the whiskies from the distilleries of Speyside have a characteristic taste or aroma? Although there is a sweet, fruity, floral, Speyside “style,” the house styles of different distilleries in the same area can be dramatically different, says Winchester.
Despite having over 120 active distilleries across different regions, the dram here varies from one distillery to another. “From the source of the water and the shape of the still to the wood of the cask used to mature the spirit, there are many factors that make Scotch whisky so wonderfully different.” He adds, “No two are the same; each has its own proud heritage, unique setting and its own way of doing things that has evolved and been refined over time.”